State’s poor graduation numbers

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By Ralph Damiani

Fewer than six in 10 students graduated from New Mexico’s high schools in 2006, giving the state a ranking of 48th in the nation, according to a report released by the Associated Press.

Education Week’s report found New Mexico’s class of 2006 had a graduation rate of 56 percent. The study showed that an average of 73 students drop out each school day.

The state only ranked ahead of Georgia (55.9 percent), the District of Columbia (48.8 percent) and Nevada (47.3 percent). The national graduation rate was 69.2 percent.

The state Public Education Department said the report showed an improvement over the class of 2005, when New Mexico ranked 50th at 54.1 percent.

Positive spin? We hope not.

Education has been a major focus of this state for many years as Legislature after Legislature, governor after governor pushed for more and more funding.

Yet, it all seems to be falling short. Why?

New Mexico Education Secretary Veronica Garcia said in a release the progress was good but pointed out that the low rate meant “far too many of our children take too long or fail to graduate from high school.”

Garcia said the state needs to be more aggressive in decreasing the dropout rate and making sure students can read and write by third grade so that they’re on track with the skills they’ll need in high school.

That is right on. But does that mean that students now leaving the third grade can’t read? Really?

If that is so, we cannot be surprised by the dropout rate. Who will stay in school if they can’t even read?

New Mexico has long struggled with an achievement gap between white and minority students, and graduation rates are no exception. Nearly 68 percent of whites graduated in 2006, while only 51.6 percent of Hispanic students and 49.5 percent of American Indian students graduated.

New Mexican girls were more likely to graduate than males. More than 61 percent of girls finished with the class of 2006, compared with only 53 percent of boys, the report said.

It also stated that since 1996, New Mexico’s graduation rate peaked at 62.4 percent in 2002 and then fell to an 11-year low to 54.1 percent in 2005, the report said. The state is among 24 in the country that require students to pass a statewide assessment before they can earn a high school diploma.

The state also requires 23 credits in math, language arts, science, history, social studies and other classes to graduate, the report said. The national average credit requirement is 20.7 credits.

These are good things. So what is going wrong?

There is no easy answer.

Garcia said the state has “to figure out how to make high school a place where kids can be successful.”  True enough. But clearly throwing money at the issue is not the solution.

We hope someone realizes that what we are doing is not working and that it is really time to try something new.

Christine Trujillo, president of the American Federation of Teachers New Mexico, said schools need to provide classes in music and art and programs in middle school that teach students about different jobs or industries.

We agree. There needs to be more trades courses as it must be made clear that not everyone needs to go to college. And in showing students who have no interest in college that there are still relevant things in high school would go a long way to keeping more of our young people there.